Dunedin, Feb 22 - Mahela Jayawardnene's century and a late blitz from all-rounder Thisara Perera helped Sri Lanka defeat a gutsy Afghanistan by four wickets in a World Cup Pool A game at the University Oval here on Sunday.
In pursuit of 233, Sri Lanka were reeling at 51/4 when veteran Jayawardene (100), who scored his 19th One-Day International (ODI) hundred, utilised his experience to the maximum. The former captain put up a 126-run partnership with skipper Angelo Mathews (44) for the fifth-wicket to bail the team out of trouble.
When both of them lost their wickets, the 1996 edition champions seemed to be in trouble again. But Perera's (47 not out) onslaught saw them overhaul the target and also gave them their first win of the tournament.
Meanwhile, this was Afghanistan's second loss after their defeat to Bangladesh in their opener.
Earlier, Afghanistan were bowled out for 232 in 49.4 overs. Asghar Stanikzai (54) and Samiullah Shenwari (38) were the main contributors for the World Cup debutants. They forged a 88-run stand for the third-wicket that helped Afghanistan reach a respectable total.
Afghanistan didn't get the start they would have wanted as the opening partnership between Javed Ahmadi (24) and Nawroj Mangal (10) ended for just 34 runs in 8.1 overs. Mangal lost his wicket while trying to hit Mathews.
In the following over, Ahmadi, who was looking good with a 22-ball 24, lost his wicket while trying to pull medium pacer Suranga Lakmal and was caught by Rangana Herath at mid-wicket. However, they got a partnership for the third wicket that gave them the platform they needed.
Stanikzai and Shenwari stitched a 88-run stand. The 27-year-old Stanikzai hit five fours and a huge six to complete his fourth ODI fifty. His 54-run knock came off 55 balls. He lost his wicket to seasoned left-arm spinner Herath.
Shenwari, who scored 42 against Bangladesh, was looking good. He had played 69 balls before losing his patience and his slap off a delivery of Perera ended up in the hands of Mathews at mid-off. This wicket left Afghanistan reeling at 157/4 in 32.5 overs.
Afghanistan kept losing wickets at regular intervals as Sri Lankan bowlers bowled with discipline and accuracy. Pace spearhead Lasith Malinga cut Afghan skipper Mohammad Nabi's (21) stay short as he castled through his defence.
Down the order, Mirwais Ashraf's 32-ball 28 ensured that they crossed the 200-run mark.
For Sri Lanka, Mathews and Malinga picked up three wickets apiece while Lakmal took two wickets. Perera and Herath shared a wicket each.
Though it was a good match for the Sri Lankan bowlers, their batsmen struggled against a decent pace attack. Sri Lankan openers Lahiru Thirimanne (0) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (0) perished early.
Right-arm fast bowler Hamid Hassan dismissed Kumar Sangakkara (7) and Dimuth Karunaratne to reduce the islanders to 51/4 in 12 overs, leaving the job for Mathews and Jayawardene.
The 37-year-old Jayawardene mixed caution with experience as he hit eight fours and a six to score his century in 119 balls. However, Mathews ran himself out while trying to go for a quick single and Jayawardene also lost his wicket, giving hope to Afghanistan.
When Jayawardene fell, his team's score read 178/6 in 41.2 overs, still requiring 55 runs from 52 balls. However, Perera brought down Afghanistan's hopes with some big blows towards the end. Jeevan Mendis remained unbeaten at 9.
Brief scores: Afghanistan 232 all out in 49.4 overs (Asghar Stanikzai 54, Samiullah Shenwari 38; Angelo Mathews 3/41, Lasith Malinga 3/41, Suranga Lakmal 2/36) lost to Sri Lanka 236/6 in 48.2 overs (Mahela Jayawardene 100, Thisara Perea not out 47; Hamid Hassan 3/45).